My first clue this was a serious crowd came when I arrived 45 minutes before race time July 30 and the lot at Grand Blanc High School was full. I was just about the last to arrive. I picked up my number and was told to pin it on my right side. I had to look to others for guidance. My second clue this crowd was fast came in the moments before the start; sleek, light, expensive and aerodynamic bikes with racing tires everywhere. Some were warming up on stands and lastly a look about me at the start revealed plenty of cycling or bike store affiliated jerseys and not a one soft saddle like mine. My jersey had a cool looking frog on the front and back.
But, you know, even though this was my first bike race (at age 47), I wasn't intimidated. Curious, vague on what to expect and a little worried how I'd handle the pain to follow but I wasn't scared. I dared not think I might be in over my head.
I'd signed up for the Category 5/Citizen's 30 mile event in the Major Taylor/Michigan Road Race Championships. There were 14 different classifications, some based on ability, others on age while race distances were based on the same formula. My group was for guys of all ages light on experience or fitness. Each group set off a few minutes apart with the fastest going first, on a rolling 15 mile loop through Goodrich, Atlas and Grand Blanc. It was expertly marshalled and policed. I live in the area so was familiar with the layout. With all that was going through my mind, knowing the course was small comfort.
I've not mentioned that it rained all morning and hard at times but will now because we're about to begin. Also, I haven't mentioned that I've never been around more than one other rider and that at a casual pace but will now because we're pedaling down the road into the wind and rain and I'm surrounded by 47 other riders a few feet apart.
After a mile I looked at my bike computer and it'd inexplicably stopped at 1:44. It's never done that before and, watch out, about a mile later a rider lost control in mid-pack and lurched off the road headlong into the dirt shoulder.
My third clue this was a serious group came half-way up a hill in the 6th mile when the pack surged away from me. A look behind was humbling: nobody but the trail vehicle with spare tires in the back. There'd be no catching up with the pack after that and I can't account for the surge except that's probably just what happens in these things and we'd turned out of the wind. In bikespeak, I'd fallen off the back. I was left to chasing as best I could, not knowing how fast I was going (which would've provided a measure of consolation) and wondering if I'd gotten in over my head. There aren't any 'penguins' in these races. Heck, there's no mid-pack, mile marks, aid stations or post-race feed either.
Feeling frustrated, I kept working hard, knowing I was going faster, longer than I'd ever gone before. I caught a guy who'd drifted back and, oh boy, noticed my bike computer was working again. With the wind at my back, the sweet wind, I rode hard to complete lap one and could see a few others ahead. Catchable, I thought. I may not have any idea how fast a pace I could sustain but I was riding in a groove now. Using the nearest guy as a magnet, I caught'em and cruised by. The next guy took 4 miles to catch due to the wind (rain, hills, etc.). We chatted briefly and I inched ahead.
I couldn't believe I still felt OK. Now, OK was relative in the very wet conditions but I looked forward to a tailwind and a 'dash' home. As I bore down on a couple guys ahead, the guy I'd recently passed snuck by and streaked up to the duo. Fine, I thought. You should've kept going 'cause I'll catch and pass the trio of you. And that's what I did coming off a hill 2 miles later.
A mile later, the female leader went flying by on the way to an easy win. (She started a few minutes behind my group). I felt awed and inspired in her wake. I learned later her name's Cecilia Potts and she's an exceptional mountain biker also. Next, 2 of 3 guys I'd just passed splashed by. I switched gears, caught one and rode as hard as I could for the finish. I maintained my place across the line and eased up unsure of my place or time. A look at my computer showed I'd averaged 21 mph for the time it operated. I learned later I placed 40th and I figure in about 1:26. Only the front pack gets timed in most races.
Overall, I felt 'schooled' by the early surge and generally pretty good about my pace and how I'd hung on and held up. With a little training, I think, instead of steady effort rides of 17-18 mph, I might be able to hang with those guys a little longer. It's fun and energizing thinking about what just happened and what might be.